JAWS and Braille

EXERCISE: If you are participating in the live webinar, please open this page outside of the training room and follow along with the instructor. If you are participating via the recorded archive you do not need to do this, since the archived recordings are already running in your browser, not the online training room.

In this module we'll look at some of the braille features available in JAWS.

NOTE: The author recommends that every effort should be made to comply with the 2004 Braille Authority of North America (BANA) guidelines that define the usage of the word braille. These guidelines state, in effect, that the word "braille" should be treated with the same capitalization rules as applied to any other noun in the English language, i.e. not capitalized.

In addition, the use of the terms, contracted braille and uncontracted braille, should follow the BANA guidelines established in 2002. These guidelines state that grade 1 braille should be referred to as uncontracted braille and grade 2 braille should be referred to as contracted braille respectively.

JAWS has the ability to work with many refreshable braille devices, including for example, the Focus line of braille displays from Freedom Scientific and the PAC Mate™ portable braille displays. If you have a braille display, you normally would choose to install it when you initially install JAWS, but a braille display can also be installed later.

What is Braille?

Braille consists of dots pushed up on a piece of paper. The practice of taking printed text and creating braille from it is also called embossing. Each single character in braille can be represented by a series of dots arranged in two vertical columns. These two columns comprise one braille "cell." Several braille cells strung side-by-side can comprise words and symbols. An electronic refreshable braille display has a set of plastic pins that push up through a metal plate. The pins rise up and down to represent different dot patterns. The pins in computer braille cells are numbered in rows and columns with number 1, 2, 3, and 7 in column one from top to bottom. Column two contains dots 4, 5, 6, and 8 from top to bottom.

Three braille cells on a refreshable braille display. Each cell contains eight dots.

Three braille cells on a refreshable braille display. Each cell contains eight dots.

Choose this link to see a quick 37 second video of the Focus 40 braille display in action.

Startup Wizard Braille Options

New beginning in the JAWS 9 Startup Wizard is a dialog box that controls how grade two braille, or contracted braille, is set up.

What is the difference between uncontracted (formerly called, often still, "grade 1 braille") and contracted braille (formerly called, often still, "grade 2 braille")? With uncontracted braille, each letter of the alphabet takes up one cell. With contracted braille, dots in one braille cell can represent more than one character. For example, in uncontracted braille the word "the" would be represented by three braille cells with the following pins raised:

  1. Switch to the JAWS window and open the Help menu.
  2. Choose Startup Wizard in the Help menu. The Startup Wizard opens.
  3. If the first screen you see in the Startup Wizard asks you to install the training materials, uncheck the check box for now. You don't want to install the training materials during the webinar today, and can choose to do that at another time.
  4. Press ENTER until you come to the last page of the Startup Wizard.
  5. The Contracted Braille Translation combo box has three choices:
  6. Expand Current Word. This is checked by default. If Translation has been set to Output Only, and this check box is checked, the word at the position of the braille cursor appears in computer braille. This makes it easier to edit the word at the cursor. For example, everything on the braille display appears in contracted braille except for the word where the cursor is.

The Focus 40 Blue braille display from Freedom Scientific with arrows pointing to Perkins-style keys for input.

The Focus 40 Blue braille display from Freedom Scientific with arrows pointing to Perkins-style keys for input

NOTE: The dots in the image above show the following text:
Focus 40 4.10 batt: 29%
The numbers 1 through 0 are represented by the same characters as letters a through j, but dropped down one row.

You can also adjust braille options by using either JAWS Quick Settings (INSERT+V) or Settings Center (INSERT+F2). Changes made with Quick Settings are application-specific. To make global changes to braille for all programs use Settings Center and switch to the default file using CTRL+SHIFT+D.

Installing a Braille Display

NOTE: PAC Mate portable braille displays and Focus braille displays are automatically detected by JAWS and you do not have to perform a separate installation for them.

If you already have JAWS installed and you want to add a braille display to your computer:

  1. In the JAWS user interface, go to the JAWS Options menu by pressing ALT+O.
  2. Choose Braille in the menu and press ENTER. The Braille Basic Settings dialog box opens.
  3. Move to the Add Braille Display button and activate it with the SPACEBAR.

Making Permanent Changes to Braille Settings

Once a braille display is installed, there are several settings that you can make to further customize how JAWS works with it. Using these options results in the changes being permanent, unless you change them again later. There are a couple of ways to make permanent changes.

Braille Basic Settings Dialog Box

  1. Switch to the JAWS window.
  2. Choose Options (ALT+O), Braille

Here you can easily add a new braille display or change your default braille display. Press ESC.

Braille Options

Make changes to braille options in the following way:

  1. Press INSERT+F2 to open the Run JAWS Manager dialog box.
  2. Press S until Settings Center is selected, and then press ENTER. JAWS Settings Center opens.
  3. Press CTRL+SHIFT+D to switch to the default settings. Focus is in the search edit box.
  4. Press DOWN ARROW to move to the item Braille in the tree view of Settings Center. JAWS reports it is closed.
  5. Press RIGHT ARROW to open the Braille node of the tree view. JAWS tells you how many items are contained within this node. Press RIGHT ARROW to open a closed item or LEFT ARROW to close an open item.
  6. As you press the ARROW keys to move up and down the tree the configuration display pane on the right side of the screen changes to show items that relate to braille settings. Also note the read-only help text at the bottom of the dialog box that changes to show help topics specific to the item highlighted in the tree. You can press TAB to move to the help text and use the arrow keys to read it.
  7. Press RIGHT ARROW on Translation to open this node of the tree view.
  8. Press DOWN ARROW to move to the first item, Contracted Braille Translation. This is the corresponding entry that you saw previously in the JAWS Startup Wizard.
  9. NOTE: To change things in Settings Center from the tree view press SPACEBAR to cycle between the available options. Most of the time you do not need to move to the configuration display pane on the right side of the screen, however, for edit boxes you do. If you need to do so, press F6 to move from the tree view to the configuration pane and then F6 to return to the tree view when you are finished.

  10. Press DOWN ARROW again, and explore the other items in the tree.
  11. NOTE: UEB is not country-specific, and is becoming more widely used. The US has not standardized on it yet, but New Zealand has, for example.

  12. Press DOWN ARROW until focus moves to Braille Mode in the tree view of Settings Center.

Braille Mode Combo Box

In JAWS Settings Center use the Braille Mode combo box to control the format of the information sent to the braille display. When line mode is selected, JAWS sends the line of text at the current cursor position to the braille display. When structured mode is selected, JAWS sends information to the display that is relevant to the current cursor position. The information sent includes things such as control type, dialog box name, or number of items in a list. These different pieces of information often come from different parts of the screen, not necessarily on the same line. When speech history mode is selected, JAWS sends the same text to the display that it sends to the synthesizer. The default setting for this option is structured mode.

The Notepad File Open dialog box showing information coming from different areas.

The Notepad File Open dialog box showing information coming from different areas

The same information from the File Open dialog box in Notepad as shown on a braille display.

The same information from the File Open dialog box in Notepad as shown on a braille display

The information shown on the braille display in the above example comes from several different parts of the screen. This is structured mode, the default mode, for JAWS. The areas and the information provided in this example are:

Press DOWN ARROW in Settings Center to move to the next section, Panning.


What is panning? Panning allows the refreshable braille user to move forward or backward through text. Keep in mind that the size (in number of braille cells) limits how far one can pan in either direction.

The Focus 40 and 80 braille displays with arrows pointing to panning buttons and circles highlighting whiz wheels.

The Focus 40 and 80 braille displays with arrows pointing to panning buttons and circles highlighting whiz wheels

Panning Buttons

The Focus panning buttons pan left or right one display width (40 or 80 cells) each time you press them. The two panning buttons are rectangular-shaped, making it easy to activate them with the thumbs when your hands are positioned on the Braille cells for reading. Press the panning button on the left front edge of the Focus to pan left. Press the panning button on the right front edge of the Focus to pan right.

Focus Panning

Focus panning is the ability to use the Whiz Wheels® to pan through your documents while moving the PC cursor with the Braille cursor. This panning feature is very useful when reading a long document, such as a book. As you read and pan, the screen begins to scroll so you can continuously read.

To turn on Focus panning, simply press the Whiz Wheels until you hear "Focus Panning." Then roll the wheels to navigate your document. Roll the wheel toward you to move down the page and away from you to move up.

Panning Visual Demonstration

Choose the next series of pages from the following link to see a visual representation of what a braille user sees of a document when panning with a 40-cell refreshable braille display.

NOTE: The actual representation is how braille would appear in a Word document, not necessarily this Web page document. The reason is that a Word document contains lines of text fixed in size, whereas in Web pages the text flows to fit the size of the page. Lines of text are determined by the JAWS virtual buffer in HTML documents.

Press DOWN ARROW to move to the next section in Settings Center, Braille Marking Options.

Braille Marking Options

One item that may confuse new braille users is that by default, JAWS uses dots 7 and 8 to mark highlighted text. This makes highlighted text on the refreshable braille display appear to be underlined. If this causes difficulty in reading, you can turn this off by unchecking the check box for Highlight.

JAWS users who have a braille display can choose to look for different attributes such as bold, underline, italic, and more.

Press DOWN ARROW in Settings Center and move to the item Cursor.

Changing Braille Cursor Settings

This is one change I like and that's to cursor settings. There are three basic cursor types for braille listed here, the PC cursor, the JAWS cursor, and the invisible cursor. The PC cursor is the blinking insertion point in text areas, the JAWS cursor is the mouse pointer, and of course, the invisible cursor is invisible. It is there because you may want to review the screen with a cursor besides the PC cursor, which cannot go everywhere on the screen anyway, or the JAWS cursor. The JAWS cursor is the mouse pointer, and mouse events can happen when moving it around on the screen. So in some cases people may use the invisible cursor. The PC cursor, the JAWS cursor, and the invisible cursor are all represented on the braille display by dots 7 and 8.

What if you have a client or student who has a severe problem with feeling and sensitivity in their fingers? They might not be able to feel the cursor with just dots 7 and 8, so you could increase the number of pins for the cursor to make it easier to find. In my case, I want to decrease the number of pins from two to one and also I want to set the braille cursor to not blinking, or moving up and down. The blink rate is set to 500 milliseconds, or half a second, by default.

  1. Press DOWN ARROW to move to PC Cursor in Settings Center, and then RIGHT ARROW to open it.
  2. Press DOWN ARROW to move to Dot Pattern.
  3. The dot pattern is typed in an edit box. To move to the edit boxes in the Settings Center configuration display pane, press F6.
  4. Type in the numbers for the dots you want to represent the cursor. I only want dot 8, so I'll delete the 7. If you wanted all the dots you would type in 12345678, for example.
  5. Press TAB to move to the next control, cursor blink rate.
  6. It is set to Braille Cursor is Blinking. I'm going to change mine to Braille Cursor is Always Up.
  7. You can continue to press TAB to move through the items here. I usually change all three cursors to behave the same. For now, however, I'm going to press F6 to move back to the tree view.

Braille Flash Messages

Braille Flash Messages were introduced beginning with JAWS 6.0. These are messages that appear on the braille display for five seconds, by default, and then disappear. When JAWS is talking, some messages, in the past, did not appear on the braille display. For example, when I press INSERT+T to read the title bar of the window with focus with versions of JAWS before 6.0 JAWS speaks it, but this did not appear in braille. These messages now announce application start messages, error messages, help balloons, and more by flashing them on the braille display for five seconds.

I read braille by sight, but I'm not a very fast reader, so when those flash messages appear it takes me a little longer. I want to increase the time that flash messages appear so I'm going to press DOWN ARROW to move to the item Flash message Timeout. It's set to five seconds, so I'm going to press SPACEBAR until it changes to ten seconds, or 10,000 milliseconds.

Press DOWN ARROW in Settings Center to move to Advanced.

Status Cells

Status cells on a braille display are designed to give information such as line number, column number, or other information such as which cursor is active. I only have a Focus 40 on my desk, so I like to have the entire forty cells for text, so I'm going to turn off the status cells. This is just a personal preference. I'll press SPACEBAR on placement of status cells in the tree view until I find the choice for None.

Close Settings Center and Save Changes

I've made a few changes in the braille settings so I want to save these changes. Press TAB to move to the OK or the Cancel button, depending on whether you want to save your changes or not.

Braille Viewer

Freedom Scientific developed the JAWS Braille Viewer to provide textual representation on the computer screen of the output received on a refreshable braille device. The application is designed to simulate a braille display and operates with or without an actual braille display present. The main purpose of Braille Viewer is to assist sighted instructors or testers that do not read braille or may not have access to a braille display. It helps to demonstrate and confirm the output information JAWS sends to these hardware devices.

To run Braille Viewer do the following:

  1. Open the Start menu, and choose Programs.
  2. Open the JAWS program group.
  3. Select Braille Viewer within the JAWS program group. Braille Viewer opens at the top of the screen
  4. A Braille Viewer icon appears in the system tray. To close Braille Viewer, right click it and choose Exit or press INSERT+F11 to use the JAWS List of System Tray Icons.

Braille Study Mode

When Braille Study Mode is on, JAWS will announce the current braille character in a display cell when you press the Cursor Routing button immediately above that cell. When you press the Navrow button (located behind the Cursor Routing button), JAWS will announce and spell the braille word.

NOTE: Braille Study Mode only appears in Quick Settings if you have a braille display attached.

  1. Press INSERT+V to open the JAWS Quick Settings dialog box.
  2. Type study in the search edit box. The tree view shows only results that match the search.
  3. Press DOWN ARROW to move to Study Mode, and then press SPACEBAR to toggle Study Mode on. Braille Study Mode remains on until toggled off or until JAWS is restarted.

Braille Fonts for Windows

There are several different braille fonts for Windows. The author's favorite is called Simbraille True Type font, because it also shows small dots for the cells that represent pins that are down or no dots, and large dots for the cells that represent pins that are up or raised dots on paper.

Choose the following link to find and read more about the Simbraille True Type font. At the time of this writing you'll find three different braille fonts included along with instructions on how to install them.

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